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Six deaths in Berkshires from coronavirus confirmed

One hundred and twenty-two people in the commonwealth have succumbed to a coronavirus-related illness, six of whom are residents of Berkshire County.
The state Department of Health (DPH) reported that two women in their 80s from the county have died; one on Saturday that had pre-existing conditions that was not hospitalized and another on Tuesday that was hospitalized.
The number of confirmed cases of those with coronavirus disease continues to climb as the number of cases has jumped to 7,738 cases, 183 of which are in Berkshire County, according to DPH. Suffolk County now has the most confirmed cases of any other county in the commonwealth with 1,624.
As numbers continue to rise, so do the concerns of county residents, businesses and nonprofits. To field some of those concerns, on Tuesday, March 31, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, who also holds the title of chairperson of the House Committee on Ways and Means, hosted his second telephone town hall with Berkshire Health Systems Chief Medical and Chief Quality Officer Dr. James Lederer.
During the conference call, Neal gave an update on the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on Friday, March 27.
Lederer offered fielded questions on what’s being done to combat the virus in Berkshire County. He is trained and board certified in infectious diseases from the University of Tennessee – Memphis. He has been in leadership roles with health systems since 1998 and joined Berkshire Healthy System in mid-January of this year.
A Lanesborough resident at the telephone town hall asked what the criteria is for testing. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 50,000 people in Massachusetts have been tested for the virus.
“We don’t have many test kits available nationwide … so those for whom the results would make the most difference are being tested,” said Lederer, noting that the knowledge of a positive or negative result would drive new therapeutic options. “We’re trying to look at the greatest good – those with fevers and lower respiratory tract symptoms, rather than someone with scratchy eyes and a runny nose.”
Lederer also said that while some Berkshire Healthy Systems employees have been exposed to patients in the hospital, they’re more likely being exposed to the coronavirus in the communities they reside.
The immune response seems to be overly exuberant in those patients who are experiencing ARDS (adult respiratory distress syndrome) or cytokine cascade syndrome is what drives mortality in people infected by the coronavirus, said Lederer in a statement.
“The immune response is the culprit in severe lung damage,” he said.
A Westfield resident that attended the telephone town hall asked if Massachusetts was ready for what was to come, considering predictions appear to point that the commonwealth is roughly two weeks behind New York’s peak.
“Absolutely,” Lederer responded. “I’m very pleased with how telemedicine has evolved during this pandemic. It’s going to be a game-changer after this is over.”
Lederer cited telemedicine’s ability to provide a space for interaction and contact without travel, especially in the more rural areas of the Berkshires.
Comments were also generated at the telephone town hall about the 13 deaths at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. On Tuesday, March 31, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services said that six of the people tested positive for coronavirus, one came back negative and another is unknown. Five others are still pending their test results.
In addition to that, seven members of the staff and 10 veterans at the home have tested positive, and 25 veterans at the home are pending test results.
A resident of Springfield indicated that her husband, an 86-year-old resident of the home, is a high-risk resident and has not gotten any answers on circumstances at the facility.
Neal, who said he has an uncle that resides at the home, said he would make sure a member of his staff was able to get her answers.
Kenneth Singer, president and CEO of nonprofit human services organization Berkshire County Arc, expressed financial concerns to Neal, noting that Berkshire County Arc was not eligible for Small Business Association loans because they have a staff of nearly 800, he said.
Singer also noted that the nonprofit had also experienced a small outbreak to both staff and clients. In a separate interview following the telephone town hall, he declined to attribute a number to the outbreak.
The organization is “following the letter of the law” and isolating people, said Singer. No one is going out and there are no visitors allowed in the 42 group homes in the Arc’s system, he added. All of the organization’s day programs have been closed.
In the meantime, the organization is experiencing an issue with staffing as many have used sick leave, Singer says, to accommodate childcare problems.
“I can’t say enough good things about our staff working to keep people safe … they’ve been phenomenal,” he said. “We’re trying to hire more staff and have even expedited our process, but it’s still tough.”
Another challenge is getting enough PPE equipment, said Singer. As of Tuesday, the organization received 500 masks that were ordered online, and last week, the City of Pittsfield delivered 100 masks to the organization. Moving forward, Singer says that they continue to be prepared for “what-could-be.”
The largest age group that have tested positive with the virus is those between the ages of 50 and 59 with 1,513 confirmed cases, followed by those between the ages of 30 and 39 with 1,347 cases and those between the ages of 40 and 49 with 1,295 cases, DPH reported.
The total cases in the U.S. are 186,101, with 3,603 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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